In a major development in the Bradley Manning case, a military judge ruled today that Manning’s pre-trial confinement was illegal and reduced his possible sentence in a pre-trial hearing.
While in the Marine Corps brig, Manning, the army private who is accused of leaking three quarters of a million classified documents to WikiLeaks, was kept in a cell without windows for 23 hours a day. The judge, Col. Denise Lind, said today that Manning’s confinement was “more rigorous than necessary” and that the conditions “became excessive in relation to legitimate government interests.” Manning testified that he was kept under suicide watch despite the recommendations of the prison psychiatrist and forced to sleep without clothes and without a blanket.Col. Lind credited 112 days towards Manning’s sentence if convicted.
“The judge confirmed what was already obvious from the facts: Manning suffered illegal pre-trial punishment,” said Elizabeth Goitein, Co-Director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “But this finding begs the question: is the post-trial punishment that the government seeks also excessive? Despite the lack of evidence that Manning intended or produced any harm to national security, the government is seeking life imprisonment under a statute designed for spies and enemies of the state. This sends a clear message to would-be national security whistleblowers to keep silent and let the government police itself.”
The pre-trial hearing will continue this week before the trial begins on March 6.
Elizabeth Goitein is co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. An expert on government secrecy and overclassification, Ms. Goitein has written and commented extensively (on NPR, WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show, and elsewehere) on issues relating to Bradley Manning and national security whistleblowers. She appeared on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” last weekend to discuss national security policies.